I can't tell you how many people feel lukewarm about Lotus Cafe, the Chinese BYO tucked into a corner of the Home Depot-Pathmark Shopping Center in Hackensack. In a way, that's good, because I won't have too much trouble getting a table there again to enjoy its unusual food.
The noodles and soup noodles are terrific, so don't bother schlepping into Chinatown. One of my favorites is zar jiang mein, fat, homemade noodles topped with a robust meat sauce ($6.95). Today, for lunch, I polished off a platter of noodles in abalone sauce ($8.95), with spinach and mushrooms, enough food for two.
But Lotus Cafe has a huge menu, including such intriguing dishes as X.O. beef casserole, squid & pork rendezvous; and chicken, shrimp or vegetarian soong, which is eaten wrapped in lettuce leaves. If you have a special occasion to celebrate or just want to splurge, ask for the extraordinary banquet menu, which lists multi-course meals for four to 10 people.
We once tried the eight-course dinner for six ($95) and were dazzled by the seafood and tofu chowder, three-cup chicken casserole, crispy duck, South Pacific prawns, beef with chili pepper, fillet of sole, Chinese broccoli and Eight Treasure rice pudding (the restaurant granted my request for it, even though ice cream or fruit is the usual ending to that dinner.)
For take-out, we have relied for the past three years or so on Zen & Kitchen in Teaneck.
What other Chinese take-out place can deliver a whole fish, fried or steamed? This is another big menu, with Thai food, soup noodles, sushi and bento boxes. We usually stick to the Chinese items, including vegetables prepared with fresh garlic instead of the gloppy garlic sauce and terrific ribs. Zen's delivery area includes Hackensack, Paramus, Cresskill and Ridgefield Park.
Lotus Cafe, 450 Hackensack Ave., Hackensack; 201-488-7070.
Zen & Kitchen, 1443 Queen Anne Road, Teaneck; 201-837-7322.